The humanistic approach takes an optimistic view of human nature, seeing people as essentially good. Believing in the more noble aspects of human existence, it insists on the value of qualities such as choice, free will and self definition. Humanistic psychologists believe that we are all unique individuals and that each person is shaped by their own personal experiences. This approach is also notable for being open to more philosophical influences, stating that we must define our lives for ourselves. Humanistic psychologists also believe that experiments on humans are inappropriate because everyone is unique.
They believe that if people are treated like objects they may as well become like objects. Instead clients should be treated as ‘whole’ human beings. Humanistics often object to calling those who participate in studies ‘subjects’, since this implies that they are merely powerless objects in a psychologists game. They prefer words like ‘clients’ and ‘participants’, and they prefer to emphasise mutual cooperation and respect. One key idea related to the idea of the ‘whole’ person is self actualisation.
The idea of self actualisation focuses on human motivation.
Maslow (1970, cited in Haralambos & Rice et al 2002) developed a theory of human motivation. He believed that humans are motivated to satisfy a series of needs. The needs are hierarchical in the sense that lower level needs must be satisfied before the needs above can be motivated. The diagram below shows Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from the most basic needs to the highest level. Unconditional regard is the other key idea in the humanistic approach.
One factor that helps us to achieve our potential is unconditional positive regard.
Rogers was responsible for developing ‘client focused therapy’ this centres on people as individuals who can shape their own lives. Rogers (1951, cited in Haralambos & Rice et al 2002) suggested that the therapist must not give advice or tell the clients what to do. The therapist instead, must create a supporting and accepting environment allowing the client to discover themselves and search for their own individual meanings. Unconditional positive regard must be shown by the therapist, being accepting and uncritical, sincere and genuine. This encourages the clients to become honest and accept themselves.
By this route they will recognise and become their true selves. These ideas have encouraged many self help groups. Although the humanistic approach has many positive factors it also has weaknesses. The humanistic ideas are very vague and untestable. Some critics see the humanistic approach as a collection of recipes for living containing advice for getting the best out of life, rather than an approach which explains human behaviour. Also many self help therapy groups can be time consuming and are often only available to those who are willing to pay.